Remembrance Day: Honouring those who have laid down their lives for our freedom
The obscenity of an outrageous war in Ukraine lends an added poignancy to our reflections at this time of Remembrance.
Service men and women have answered our nation’s call throughout history – not least in the two world wars of the 20th century but in a score of campaigns since. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the conflict in the South Atlantic.
Pause for a moment and imagine. It was still dark in the early morning of what turned out to be one of the last full days of the Falklands War in 1982, when a two-man reconnaissance patrol from 22 SAS led by Captain John Hamilton, an officer of the Green Howards on secondment to the SAS, heard the sound of movement behind them. The patrol had been lying up for several days gathering intelligence on Argentinean movements around their headquarters at Port Howard, on West Falkland. The two British soldiers froze, hoping that this Argentinean patrol would not stumble across them on the bare hillside. But the patrol kept coming towards them.
They gave their today for our tomorrow – the ultimate sacrifice
A brisk fire fight soon developed. John Hamilton was hit quite early in the engagement, and realising that their position was hopeless, he ordered the other soldier, a signaller, to make a break for it while he remained to give covering fire. The signaller edged himself away from their position using the little cover that was available, while Captain Hamilton kept the Argentineans’ pinned down. He was hit again, and his rate of fire slackened, and then hit a third time, he was killed. The signaller made good his escape. Captain Hamilton was decorated posthumously for outstanding gallantry and is buried close to where he fell, on the hillside overlooking Port Howard. He gave his life that another might live.
And at this Remembrance tide those who died, like Captain John Hamilton, are the reason that we gather year after year around our war memorials, to remember with great gratitude, not only the many thousands of men and women who gave their lives in the two world wars, but also those who lost their lives in the many campaigns since. They all did so that we might be able to live in peace and freedom today. They gave their today for our tomorrow – the ultimate sacrifice, and what a responsibility that places on us to honour that sacrifice. So, it is very right that at this time of year we should stop, remember, and give great thanks for the sacrifice of those who have risked their lives from Passchendaele to Port Stanley, from Belfast to Basra in Iraq and from Sarajevo to Sangin. Moreover, we should be very conscious that such sacrifice is not just a thing of yesterday as so many of our service people continue to be caught up in the slipstream of international terrorism, and in today’s conflicts around the world.
The future is uncertain, but there is always the legacy of the past to be remembered. Inscribed on the Armed Forces Memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum are the names of over 16,000 servicemen and women who have lost their lives on operations since 1945. At the heart of the memorial is a wreath. In years when the sun is shining at 11am on 11 November, a ray of sunshine falls exactly on the centre of that wreath – a visible link between those individual men and women who served and fell on operations, and the glory of the wider world of creation in which they lived and for the preservation of which they died.
We will remember them.
Lord Dannatt, crossbench peer and former chief of the General Staff 2006-2009.
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